Harvesting and storing high-quality forages can help dairy producers reduce the cost of feeding their herds without compromising milk production and growth of dairy heifers, reminds Donna Amaral-Phillips, University of Kentucky dairy nutrition and grazing management specialist.

Feeding programs containing higher amounts of forages are generally more profitable, but farmers must harvest and store high-quality forages to take advantage of that, she says. Corn for silage should be harvested when the moisture is between 65 and 70%, depending on the storage structure.

Many parts of Kentucky have been dry, which causes corn to dry down quickly.

“When farmers harvest corn that is too dry, it doesn’t pack as well in the silo, doesn’t ferment correctly and it results in lower-quality feed for the dairy herd,” says Amaral-Phillips. “Another thing that farmers may forget is that improperly covered silages result in excessive losses in the storage structure. These losses are not seen unless the differences between the amounts of silage entering and fed are measured.”

Farmers need to pack bunkers and piles, especially the top 6” of silage, and then cover them with plastic and tires that touch one another. It’s a good idea to level off and cover upright silos. With bags of silage, it’s important to prevent birds and rodents from damaging the bags.

“Corn silage is valued at seven to eight times the price of corn grain, plus an additional $10 for harvest and storage,” says Amaral-Phillips. “So, at $7 corn, each ton of corn silage is worth $59 to $66. Corn silage is a very valuable crop this year – taking time to properly cover it will save you feed dollars.”

With current prices, energy is actually the most costly nutrient for farmers to provide their herds, not protein. In dairy rations, energy can cost more than 2.5 times as much as protein. She suggests that dairy farmers work closely with their nutritionists to make the most of their feed dollars. Forage testing can be a big help in balancing diets for milking cows, dry cows and heifers.

“We can economically feed the dairy herd, even with high corn prices. We just have to pay attention to some of the finer points in our feeding and management programs.”

She suggests that dairy producers remember these items when talking with nutritionists:

  • Dairy cows need nutrients, not ingredients. Nutritionists can use ingredients other than corn grain to provide some or most of the starch in a dairy cow’s diet. “This approach allows you to balance rations for least cost but, at the same time, provide the rumen bacteria, and the cow herself, with what she needs,” says Amaral-Phillips.
  • Balanced rations contain certain amounts of dry matter provided by various ingredients. As the dry matter or moisture content of wet feeds changes, the amount of feed added to the mixer must be changed accordingly.
  • Dairy cows need a ration consistent in nutrient composition. It takes the cow’s rumen bacteria at least two weeks to adjust to changes – and the fewer the changes, the better.